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Rice coach Mike Bloomgren says his players can still remember how empty they felt after losing to Southern Miss last December in the Lending Tree Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

"They came to work every day over the last year with the mindset to not only return to a bowl but return as champions," he said. "That determination drove them to close the season with wins in our last two games to earn this opportunity."

That opportunity occurs on Tuesday in Dallas, where the Owls will play Texas State in the First Responder Bowl.

Rice finished 6-6 with some clear ups and downs. There was a 43-41 overtime win over city rival Houston on Sept. 9 and a near-miss at home in late October against then-No. 22 Tulane, the Owls losing 30-28. That was part of a three-game losing streak that dropped them to 4-6.

But Rice came through with season-ending wins over Charlotte and Florida Atlantic to earn consecutive bowl bids for just the third time in school history. It's the first time that's occurred since Rice played in the Armed Forces, Liberty and Hawaii Bowls from 2012-14.

The Owls will turn to backup AJ Padgett at quarterback for the second straight bowl game. Padgett sat behind JT Daniels most of the season before Daniels was forced to medically retire due to repeated concussions.

Padgett went 24 of 37 for 255 yards and three touchdowns with an interception in the win over Florida Atlantic. He's 61 of 96 on the year for 636 yards with seven scores and three picks. Running back Dean Connors compiled 1,102 yards from scrimmage, 707 on the ground, and Luke McCaffrey caught 68 passes for 963 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Texas State (7-5) is bowling for the first time in its 12-year FBS tenure. First-year coach G.J. Kinne earned a contract extension on Thursday for turning things around with a fast-tempo offense and an aggressive defense and tying the program record for most wins in an FBS season.

"We're proud of the team reaching a bowl game and excited for all of Bobcat Nation to celebrate this great moment for our program but we believe we can win championships at Texas State," Kinne said. "Our goal is to continue to take the program to new heights."

Kinne, who last year guided Incarnate Word to the FCS semifinals, has shown he can work magic with quarterbacks. Former Auburn QB TJ Finley triggered the Bobcats' attack to 36 points per game, throwing for 3,287 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Finley threw for 368 yards and three scores in Texas State's 52-44 win over South Alabama that closed the regular season.

But the Bobcats can also hit you with the running game as Ismail Mahdi rushed for 1,209 yards and 10 scores, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Three different receivers caught at least 52 passes, led by Joey Hobert's 71.

Rice and Texas State have met four times, all in Houston, and have split the meetings.

--Field Level Media

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